Pundits, such as myself, were predicting that the Rugby World Cup would be a politics free zone. We were wrong. In fact the Rugby World Cup has become the major political issue of the last week.
We've had four issues around the Cup. The train failures last Friday, the waterfront capacity, the Minister for Bad Manners and then the so called Government take-over of the waterfront. I'll ignore the issue of Phil Goff criticising the Prime Minister for not using te reo in his opening ceremony speech, as it is such a nonsense issue.
Before I traverse these issues, I think it is useful to point out that in almost every other regard the Rugby World Cup has been a stunning success. The opening ceremony was superb, Eden Park fitted in 60,000, Almost 200,000 people did have a great time down at the waterfront, party fan zones in other cities such as Wellington were popular and most of all there has been some great rugby.
The over-crowding at the waterfront was most certainly preventable. I was amazed to learn from Councillor Cameron Brewer on Radio NZ's Panel on Wednesday that the Council had not surveyed residents on what their intentions were, despite having an online panel for such things. As the owner of a market research company I am of course always thinking market research is a good idea, but it does stagger me that the Council's planning scenario of 50,000 was not based on any research.
Sure there can be factors, such as the wonderful weather that day, which will make turnout hard to predict, but asking Aucklanders what they plan to do is much more sensible than just making an assumption. The Auckland Council has to bear the brunt of the criticism over the waterfront, but I think you can also legitimately criticise the Rugby World Cup organisers for never asking the Council on what basis did they decide to plan for 50,000. The RWC organisers should have demanded that there be a range of planning scenarios, with justifications for each scenario.
The train failures make for interesting reading also. Some of the proposed solutions such as security staff in every carriage should have been there from the beginning. It is interesting that so far only 200 ticket holders have asked for compensation for missing some or all of the opening ceremony and match. It sounds like Kiwi ingenuity (ie abandoning the trains and walking) got most to the game.
The Council has proposed that compensation for those who missed some of Friday night be split 1/3 Council, 1/3 Government and 1/3 Veolia (the Auckland train operator). Veolia may be getting off somewhat lightly as it appears that they did not implement measures agreed to after the Bledisloe Cup match in August. While accountability remains with the RWC Organisers and the Council, it is hard to genuinely say they are to blame if the train operator simply did not do what they said they would do.
The issue of the Minister for Bad Manners has been the light relief this week. Journalists with great glee set about short-listing who it may have been. Finally it was narrowed down to three Ministers, and all denied wrong-doing. Eventually it became clear that the report from the Australian journalist was based on Maurice Williamson being his normal boisterous self. But even a union leader in the stand said Maurice was not over the top. Phil Goff rather hysterically claimed the matter could be a resignation offence. I preferred the views of Sean Plunket on Newstalk ZB who said that the two Ministers not heckling the Wallabies should be the ones facing censure.
Finally we have the so called Government take-over of the waterfront, which brought back memories of 1951. However it seems no such thing has happened. The Minister's special powers are in his ability to approve applications for various activities and consents. They do not include a unilateral takeover of the waterfront. So the Council has not been sacked, and the Minister is not the supreme ruler of the waterfront.
I'm still not sure how this confusion happened, but would make the point that it would have been very useful if the Government had put out a Q+A sheet clearly setting out what the Minister was and was not doing with his announcement. The announcements also took the Mayor by surprise, which is never a good look.
So both the Council and the Government have been a bit battered by the events of the last week. And to be fair, both have a degree of responsibility. It is not 100% the Council's fault, just as it is not 100% the Government's fault. What Aucklanders and New Zealanders will be looking for is their ability to work together to minimise any problems for the rest of the Rugby World Cup. That doesn't mean an incident-free cup of course. On any weekend in Auckland there are fights, hospitalisations, traffic delays and the like. If 250,000 people are out celebrating, there will always be some adverse incidents. The target is not perfection, but having reasonable foresight to keep the problems to a minimum.
* David Farrar is a centre-right blogger and affiliated with the National Party. A disclosure statement on his political views can be found here.